Like many people my age, I was spanked as a child. For my parents, a spanking was always a last resort and never overly harsh, and it was effective. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned parents lose control of their emotions in the heat of the moment, and things can get out of hand.
Most likely, if you’ve reached a point of yelling at or spanking a child, it is likely you are not in a calm emotional state. Use of physical punishment with children is controversial, and the practice is opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are better ways.
Negative discipline, such as spanking, hitting, sarcasm, verbal shaming or degrading remarks, can have detrimental effects on a child’s emotional health and may result in children learning to hit or yell at other children, or in them lying to avoid “getting caught,” instead of learning to correct their behavior.
Yelling is also a problem and is often the reaction of parents who are stressed, pushed to their limit and out of control of their own emotions.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I have had some pretty impressive mom-fits through the years. As my children grew older, they told me that in those moments they just “tuned me out.” When I was yelling, I was ineffective as a parent, and they didn’t learn a thing.
These actions by adults can result in a chaotic and unhappy environment at home, where children’s undesirable behavior might actually increase instead of improving. The home might become a battleground of wills. That’s no fun for anyone.
Parenting is not easy. There are no instructions and every single one of us needs help. Parenting well is harder. It takes patience, reason and follow-through — often qualities that fly out the window when we are tired, pressed for time or stressed.
At the Children’s Council we discourage spanking and yelling as forms of discipline, and work closely with parents and caregivers to learn very effective alternative tactics to help adults stay in control so they can effectively teach children the lessons they need to learn.
When my daughter was young, she used her Christmas money to buy a guinea pig without permission. When I say, “without permission,” I am telling you she knew, without a doubt, that if she had asked me, I would have said no. She did it anyway. She was spending the night with her friend, and their family visited the pet store and the girls bought guinea pigs. Her friend also knew I would not approve, because she had asked me if she could buy my daughter one for Christmas and I had said no.
“Mama said no” does not require an explanation; but I explained anyway. Like most families, we had an array of pets over the years, all acquired with the typical promises that I, mom, would never have to lift a finger to care for the pet. If you’re a parent, you know how that works. You get a pet, and you take care of it.
Besides that, we already had two pets that weren’t getting enough attention. I worked full time and my two teenagers were busy with extracurricular activities. My daughter has grown up to be an incredible pet-mom; but at the time her track record for pet care was not good. In fact, the week before she bought the guinea pig her pet fish had died because he went without food for too long.
It happened. I got a text from her with the cutest picture you’ve ever seen of a guinea pig. She thought I’d see how cute the animal was and let her keep it. The guinea pig was absolutely adorable, as far as guinea pigs go, and despite many of our friends telling me what wonderful pets they are, I had to stick to my guns. I made her return the guinea pig to the pet store.
The pet store did not want to take the guinea pig back. They said the other guinea pigs would not accept her back into the cage and would fight with her (another lesson about responsible pet ownership for my girl), but I refused to keep her. In the end the store took her back.
It did not feel good to make my daughter return the pet. In fact, I felt downright mean. The pet store employees were disapproving. It also didn’t help that my child played on my guilt with a social media post that I was going to let the poor animal loose in the woods. To be fair, I may have threatened something like that in the pet store, but I wouldn’t have really done it.
The whole ordeal was dramatic. My child was relentless in begging me to keep the animal. It was hard to hold my ground. I couldn’t give in. This was a lesson about disobedience. This lesson was far too important. Today, it’s a guinea pig. Tomorrow, it might be something far more dangerous. I had to do the right parenting things; not the easy parenting thing.
In order to be successful, children need caring adults in their lives: parents, teachers, coaches and mentors who are willing to create boundaries and set rules, establish clear expectations for behavior and follow through on consequences. Our children are watching and learning from us.
While I followed through that time, I failed many other times. Following through is hard. In the face of begging, tears, complaining and negotiating, parents often crumble. It feels so much easier to concede and see tears turn into smiles. Doing so is much easier than following through on punishments that may make kids extra grumpy and sometimes make life more complicated for parents.
However, we all know that when parents “give in” over and over, it usually results in some pretty negative behavior from those kids we want to keep happy. The trade-off is sad and not good for our children.
Children deserve caring adults who follow through with love and appropriate consequences, whether or not it is convenient. My daughter knew it was a lesson about disobeying me and not about me not wanting her to have a guinea pig to love and play with.
Thank goodness, we can look back on this and laugh about it these days. In fact, eight years later the photos are still on my camera roll. She’s all grown up now, but we looked at them and laughed about this memory the other day.
In parenting, it is important to remember that attention, whether it is good or bad attention, reinforces the behavior. The behaviors we typically have the most dramatic reactions to are the bad behaviors. This means, we are often inadvertently reinforcing the behaviors we wish to reduce.
We work with parents so they are focused on recognizing and reacting to their children’s good behavior instead of always reacting to those behaviors that are less desirable. If you are struggling to set boundaries and following through with your children, or you find yourself yelling, or even spanking, and feeling horrible about it later, please let us help. We regularly get feedback from parents that we’ve helped them create a more peaceful home and happier family life.
Our team offers resources, parenting classes and one-on-one parenting support on specific issues for parents — giving tools and information to help parents be the best they can be. Visit the Children’s Council of Watuaga County website at www.thechildrenscouncil.org, or give us a call at (828) 262-5424 for information about ways we can support.
The Children’s Council is a nonprofit organization serving children and families in Watauga County. Established in 1977, the Children’s Council works to build a strong foundation for children’s learning and development by strengthening families, the early childhood system, and the wider community. Programs serve children and caregivers of children prenatally to age 12 and concentrate on child development to prepare children to be ready to succeed in school and in life. Our programs offer parent education, family support, early childhood literacy programs, technical assistance and professional development training for early childhood educators, and community collaboration focused on developing a community that can support the success of every child.